Rodney King riots won't happen again, say police
Rodney King retrospective: Twenty years later, a look back at the Rodney King beating, the riots that followed, and how far the LAPD think they have come.
Twenty years after the videotaped Rodney King beating exposed racial wounds and ignited passions that eventually sparked a devastating riot, Police Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday he's confident a similar police beating couldn't happen again.Skip to next paragraph
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The Los Angeles Police Department has made sweeping reforms in its use of force and handling of complaints, is under more civilian oversight, and community-based policing has eased tensions in crime-plagued communities, Beck said.
In addition, the ubiquitous cell phone means officers are aware they may be taped at any time, Beck asserted.
"Inarguably, we are a much better department," he said during a routine meeting with journalists. "I have more faith in my police officers than to believe a Rodney King incident would happen today."
King, who is black, was beaten by four white police officers following a high-speed chase into the Lakeview Terrace area on March 3, 1991. A resident, George Holliday, heard sirens and videotaped the beating from his balcony. His nine-minute footage aired on local television and eventually found its way around the world.
A year later, the four officers were acquitted in a criminal trial, triggering outrage in some black communities that erupted on April 29, 1992, into days of rioting and looting that left 55 people dead and more than $1 billion in damage.
Since then, the Police Department has made "great strides," but it still has issues, said Peter Bibring, who has handled police issues as a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
He mentioned a 2007 immigration-rights rally in MacArthur Park where officers used batons to hit demonstrators and fired rubber bullets into a crowd, injuring dozens of people. Then-Police Chief William Bratton acknowledged the incident was improperly handled.
Bibring said an ACLU report in 2008, based on LAPD data from 2003 and 2004, showed that blacks and Hispanics were disproportionally more likely to be stopped and searched by police.
While the LAPD has far better relationships with the community than during the Rodney King era, concerns about racial profiling and police use of force persist among people of color, Bibring said.
"There are still real issues of trust in some sectors of the community," he said. "There's still work to be done."
King settled a lawsuit against the city for $3.8 million but struggled with drug and alcohol problems and had several arrests in later years. The Associated Press was unable to find a telephone number to contact King, who lives in the San Bernardino County town of Rialto.